Hard work and determination are sterling qualities for a basketball team to possess, especially a ballclub with limited varsity-level playing experience, limited height and extreme youthfulness. Coach Jay Drake's Vermillion boys overcame their perceived shortcomings with four quarters of scrap and hustle that paid off in a 43-34 season-opening victory over Harrisburg at the VHS gym Friday night.
"It was a good first game," Drake said. "Both teams come into the season with little varsity experience, so we don't know how kids are going to react. Once we got our first basket, the kids relaxed a bit."
It took five minutes for the Tanagers to score, but Harrisburg had scored only four points up to that time. Austin Krier and Tyler Husby scored the season's first two field goals, then off the bench J.T. Sorensen scored twice, once off a feed from reserve Jayce Huska, for an 8-7 first-quarter lead for VHS.
The second quarter saw the Tanagers outscore the Tigers 9-0, taking advantage of foul trouble shared by Harrisburg's Adam Pohlmann and Linden Niewenhuis. Krier contributed a ringing three-pointer and another field goal, Husby two points and Tanner Settles two points in that second stanza.
Three three-pointers in the third period kept Harrisburg within striking distance, but the closest they came was a 21-17 deficit midway through that period. Once they got that close, Husby scored from close range and then from long range, and Krier answered with another trey as well to put the Tanagers up by 28-20 with a quarter left.
A successful baseline drive by Settles lifted VHS to a 30-22 lead. Then through the final period with free-throw opportunities mounting, the Tanagers made enough of the charity tosses to put the game out of reach. Nile Morecraft sank four free throws in that final quarter, Krier three and Tanner Anderson two.
Drake acknowledged that free throws were the difference in the game. "We hadn't shot free throws well in practice, but we made enough of them in this game," he said. Vermillion sank 16 out of 30 while Harrisburg had only nine attempts from the stripe, making seven. The Tigers committed 25 fouls to the Tanagers' 15.Krier and Husby, the only two men back who could claim varsity starting experience, scored 13 and 11 points, respectively, to pace the Vermillion offense. Drake played one senior (Husby), one junior (Morecraft), five sophomores (Settles, Anderson, Krier, Sorensen and Anthony Leber) and one freshman (Huska).Anderson's job was to take on Pohlmann, Harrisburg's one returning starter, and T.A. accomplished the task. Pohlmann had only two points. Alex Jacobson, a sophomore, led the Tigers with 10 points, including a pair of three-pointers. Andrew McCuen, a sophomore, and Joey Burg, a junior reserve, had nine and eight, respectively.Morecraft, who stands 6'4", had four rebounds while Settles, Anderson and Husby had five apiece. Sorensen also had four as the Tanagers outboarded the Tigers 26-17.
After games this week against Lennox and South Sioux City, the Tanagers will be at Tri-Valley next Tuesday and at Tea Area Dec. 28 before getting home games on Jan. 6-7.